Today I left Nyagatare for the last time [Murabeho means goodbye]. It was a strange sort of goodbye, probably stemming from the fact that I won’t actually be leaving the country for another two weeks. We asked Mzee (pronounced M-zay), the moto driver, to take a picture of me and Anna in the yard. Mzee is not his actual name- it is simply the word for “old man” in Swahili, but it is what we have all called him for the entire summer. Mzee is a kind old man, and several times he would take me back and forth from the university to the house for free. I was touched when he requested that we, too, get a photo before my bus departed.
I took the same bus line, Excel, that I have been using the entire trip. This morning, however, we departed from the new bus depot, a cleared space just adjacent to the former “bus depot” (I put this in quotes because it was literally just a dead end of a street), but with the benefit of a significantly reduced risk of being run over by a bus. It was quite cool again this morning, and for once I wasn’t upset about the Rwandans’ apparent fear of open windows (every other bus ride has been suffered in sweltering agony, unless I was lucky enough to get a window seat)! This only lasted for about an hour into the 3.5-hour drive, however, and by the time we reached Kigali the sun was blazing through the curtain of clouds.
Once I arrived in Kigali, I went straight to Heaven- the same restaurant I had eaten at with Heather and Stacey, to see if my room was ready. It wasn’t, so I passed the time by ordering brunch (I confess that part of my motivation for leaving on a Sunday was to experience brunch at Heaven, and it did not disappoint). I chuckled a bit to myself as I delved into my breakfast of Huevos Rancheros. As much as I love Africa, Latin America will always hold a special place in my heart and I find myself constantly drawn to the foods inspired by Central and South America.
Eating alone in restaurants is not a skill I thought much about before this trip, and especially not one that I imagined that I would refine while here. But throughout the summer, there have been many occasions for practice. As I write this now, I’m sitting alone in a coffee shop, but that is a much more manageable kind of aloneness because many people go to coffee shops in order to get work done, and with my laptop out I can easily blend in.
At restaurants, it’s easy to become self-conscious. Surrounded by tables of laughing friends and large groups of tourists, your aloneness is accentuated, and you feel like everyone in the room must be staring at you. “Did she get stood up for a date?” “Is she new in town?” “Does she even have any friends?” You know that in reality, most people have probably barely noticed you, and even then are unlikely to have given too much thought to your current situation, but the thoughts race through your head nonetheless.
So, I’ve adapted by always bringing my Nook along when I know I’ll be eating alone, so that I can distract myself during the times when I would normally be making small talk with my dining companions. My mistake today, however, was the subject matter of my book. Yesterday, I downloaded “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” by Garth Stein, because there was a dog on the cover and it had good reviews on GoodReads. I knew from the plot synopsis that the story was a dog reminiscing about his life right at the moment where he’s reaching the end, but for some reason I didn’t think that would be an issue.
About halfway through my meal, I reached the last chapter, and I had to put the book away. I hadn’t started crying –yet- but I knew that if I turned that page there would be no going back. Reading about the bond of this dog to his owner as they battled hardships together made me more aware of how much I missed my dog and cats and horse. The protagonist’s slow progression into old age was way too similar to what I had experienced with my childhood dog, Merlin (who passed away while I was traveling in the Galápagos Islands, something I still feel bad about). To put it in a way that’s understandable to 21st century internet-users, I had a major case of “the feels.”
So after finishing my brunch (which included 2 scoops of strawberry ice cream for dessert… don’t judge me), I rushed off to my now-ready room and flipped open my Nook- eager yet somehow dreading this last chapter. I had to stop more than once as tears flowed down my face, but in all honesty it was exactly the catharsis I needed. I’ve always thought of myself as the fairly stoic type, and in many ways I rely on books and movies for emotional release. I cry about the problems of this fictional dog and his devoted family, rather than trying to unravel my own tangled emotions as my summer winds down and I prepare myself for re-entry into the “real world” back in the states.
As quickly as the wave of emotion started, it was gone. I closed the Nook, wiped my cheeks one last time, and thanked myself for having the foresight to not read the last chapter while in public. Then, I hopped into the shower before heading out to run errands and write this post. Resilience- it’s what life is all about.
So the moral of the story is, when you go alone to a restaurant, feel free to bring a book for comfort. But make sure that the book is actually comforting, and you should probably avoid any of the ones where the dog dies in the end.